The all-new, seventh-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a land-bound luxury yacht that’s off-limits for all but the very privileged.
Flooring the throttle in the new S-Class and chucking it around a series of fast corners in quick succession should probably feel wrong on so many levels. The S-Class, a stately luxury sedan that’s more than 17 feet long, an opulent car that weighs more than 2,100 kilos, definitely isn’t boy-racer material. It is, instead, the preferred mode of transport for those who’ve achieved XXL-sized dollops of fame, success, and wealth. Top business executives, industrialists, heads of state, and film stars with 10-figure annual incomes love the S-Class. And the preferred status isn’t anything new for this ultra-luxe Mercedes-Benz, which has been on top of things for the last 50 years.
In practice, though, the new S-Class doesn’t seem to mind the ‘flooring the throttle and chucking it around’ bit. The feedback makes it amply clear that its talents aren’t only limited to wafting the rich and famous from Malabar Hill to Nariman Point in utter luxury, at a genteel pace. Not at all. If you wish to drive it as you stole it, the S-Class is happy to be your partner in crime; it will, at a moment’s notice, shrug off its very dignified mien, and hustle along at a rapid clip. Its stern Teutonic demeanour notwithstanding, the new S-Class is a luxury car that you enjoy driving.
In India, two variants of the new S-Class are currently available — the S 400d 4Matic (diesel) and the petrol-engined S 450 4Matic, which we drove. The S 450 is powered by a 3.0-litre inline-six, which produces a healthy 367 horsepower and 500Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a slick, efficient 9-speed automatic transmission, and the power goes to all four wheels via Mercedes-Benz’s ‘4Matic’ all- wheel-drive system. Belying its generous dimensions, the S 450 accelerates hard, going from zero to 100kph in 5.1 seconds, and hitting an electronically limited top speed of 250kph.
The S 450’s hard-working six-cylinder engine is quite an eager beaver, and sings its heart out as it pushes the large S-Class to above 200kph. It’s as smooth and refined as you’d expect, though it can get surprisingly audible under hard acceleration. This six-pot unit offers all the functional performance anyone could realistically want; the S 580’s (a higher- end variant of the S-Class, which is not available in India) twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 would probably be a wasteful indulgence, especially in the context of our road and traffic conditions, and the ongoing proliferation of speed cameras everywhere.
We suppose most S-Class owners would be more interested in things like ride quality and comfort rather than the car’s 0-100 times or top speed. This is just as well, because the new S-Class, with its ‘AirMatic’ air-suspension, is probably the closest you can get to floating off in a soft leather-lined cumulus cloud, while still staying tethered to land. AirMatic offers adjustability, remaining soft and supple in comfort mode, and firming up noticeably in sports mode, giving you the best of both worlds. There’s also rear-axle steering, which allows the rear wheels to move by up to 4.5 degrees for better low-speed manoeuvrability.
At high speeds, out on open expressways, the S-Class comes into its own. This big German car is built for covering long distances at rapid speeds, while keeping its occupants cocooned in luxury liner-like comfort; you almost expect a hostess to walk up to you and ask if you’d like some champagne before lunch. The S-Class’s cabin remains quiet at high speeds, while the car itself feels alive and responsive, reacting instantly to steering and throttle inputs. The first 150 units of the new S-Class sold in India are all CBU imports and feature 20-inch wheels, shod with very low-profile tyres. These look good, but aren’t very well suited to broken tarmacs, potholes, and sharp-edged speed- breakers etc. since there’s hardly any tyre sidewall to cushion the impact. Locally produced S-Class cars would do well to switch to 18- or 19-inch wheels, with higher- profile rubber for better cushioning.
Of course, the S-Class’s cabin is in a different league altogether compared to almost any other luxury saloon you care to name. The plus-sized seats get soft, plush leather upholstery, and there’s high-spec wood and metal trim everywhere you look. Both front and rear seats are electrically adjustable, with an extendable, electrically operated leg rest for the left rear seat. The ventilated seats also offer various massage functions so the owner can fully relax after a hard day’s work at the office. There are two high-resolution 11.6-inch full-colour infotainment displays at the back, which allow rear seat occupants to access the car’s range of functions. And a 31-speaker Burmester sound system offers exceptional power and clarity, almost transforming the S-Class’s cabin into the Paris Opera at the touch of a button. Yes, it’s all a bit over-the-top, but we suppose S-Class buyers wouldn’t have it any other way.
With the new S 450, Mercedes-Benz takes automotive instrumentation and infotainment to another level, with fully digital instrumentation and a massive 12.8-inch full-colour OLED infotainment touchscreen, which takes centre stage at the front. The S-Class features a wide range of functions and adjustability, allowing the driver to connect a smartphone, choose between driving modes, alter the ambient lighting, optimise media playback and navigation, adjust the climate control system and much, much more. These functions can now be controlled via the centrally mounted touchscreen, which looks cool and intuitive and easy to operate.
Touchscreen-based controls demand the driver’s attention, though, and require him or her to look away from the road ahead while operating the controls. With the new S-Class, however, Mercedes-Benz has determinedly stepped away from physical buttons (more so than Audi has with the A8 or BMW with the 7 Series) and moved everything to the touchscreen, and that’s a call that S-Class owners will have to adapt to. The good part is that the company’s second-generation MBUX user interface is one of the best systems currently available anywhere, and this makes it relatively easy for new users to get to grips with the S-Class’s wide range of functions.
Overall, like its predecessors, the 7th generation S-Class is an accomplished luxury car. It gets its meat-and-potatoes right — the engine, transmission and suspension all deliver a level of refinement and performance that’s better than the vast majority of buyers might expect. This is no surprise, and we wouldn’t expect any less from Mercedes-Benz. But it’s also the little things that surprise and delight, which count in the S-Class experience; the door handles that retract fully into the bodywork, the active ambient lighting system that’s also integrated into the driver information system for visual alerts, the multi-beam LED headlamps, the voice control system and… the list is endless. It can all be a bit too much to comprehend, at least initially, but once you learn the car’s suite of electronics, it only builds up the driving experience.
Priced at Rs 2.19 crore for S 450 4Matic and Rs 2.17 crore for S 400d 4Matic, the S-Class represents the pinnacle of automotive engineering – it is, quite simply, one of the best, most advanced luxury cars you can currently buy.